Monday, 20 October 2014

A Special Place


As you may remember, if you're a regular visitor to this site, we've been enjoying a bicycle ride through the lovely Hertfordshire countryside. Although the county is criss-crossed by major roads and has a large population you can easily leave all that behind and find open spaces and special places if you venture along the minor roads. But you need to keep your eyes open......



....or you might miss a little track like this one which will take you to a little fragment of history. We are in the tiny village of Clothall, not far from Baldock, and you turn off the narrow, winding road onto this almost hidden lane which, like stepping through the looking glass, leads to another world.



At the bottom of the lane stands this ancient lamppost leaning tipsily among the autumn trees. And as you turn the corner you find yourself in a silent and timeless churchyard with a perfect little country church.



The church was mostly constructed in the fourteenth century (though parts are older) and is slightly unusual in that one enters through a door in the tower.



This must be rather inconvenient when a service is about to take place since there are bell-ropes hanging down in what would normally be the porch so, presumably, the congregation has to pass between the bell-ringers in order to enter the church.



The very rustic old door still bears the name of the man who made it several centuries ago - John Warren.



Inside, the church is plain and simple with an air of tranquillity which seems to have seeped into the stonework from generations of prayer and meditation. Even a disreputable old heathen like me feels some sense of reverence here. But it would still be quite easy take in the atmosphere then step outside again, closing the door gently behind you.



If you did that you'd have missed seeing something rare and rather wonderful. The east window is very old and of an unusual design. Stained glass generally exhibits the style of the particular time when it was made. There are subtle variations which experts can detect, allowing them to attribute certain windows to certain artists, but this is not always apparent to the casual observer.



But this window has a style all its own. There are two similar works to be seen elsewhere and these may well be the work of the same craftsman.



The window features "medallions" depicting Christ, the four Evangelists and Mary Magdalene.
The picture of Mary is interesting in that great prominence is given to her hair, probably in the belief that she was the same Mary who washed Christ's feet and dried them with her hair. It's also been suggested that this piece of glass was originally in the Mary Magdalene leper hospital which stood nearby.
There are also many small individual diamond-shaped panes which are decorated with birds, some of which are local to the area while others are exotic or perhaps fanciful. All in all a remarkable piece of work.



Time to step outside again and savour this little piece of England that time has forgotten. Most of the modern world seems to hurry by without stopping, though clearly some local people still come to clean the church and care for the graveyard. And just occasionally some weary cyclist leans his bike against a tree and comes in to nose about.




And I'm glad I did.



Take care.


19 comments:

  1. That old church is so beautiful. Yes, even an old heathen like me can feel the reverence that went into each stone and window too. I love that the church is open like this, and you can just lean your bike against an old tree and wander in. A step back to another time. Truly lovely.

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  2. So beautiful & other worldly! How peaceful to ride your bike to such a tranquil place, to lean your bike against a tree & wander about ….indeed like going back in time. Mary M. is so lovely with her long flowing hair. Thank you for the pleasure of accompanying you on this wondrous bicycle journey.

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  3. I'm glad you did too John - beautiful countryside and exquisite church.

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  4. It boogles the mind to think of all the hidden treasures in the seemingly countless little villages and towns you are exploring. One could never document them all, but it's so wonderful that you are showing us so many. Of course, I love the birds painted into the glass windows.

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  5. What a beautiful and well-kept secret. Love the drunken lamppost!

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  6. Places like that are absolutely fascinating! On our first trip to England we happened to stop at a church in Evesham when the bell ringers were practising. We were welcomed in and climbed a ladder to watch them. Never heard anything like it before or since! Amazing!

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  7. "a disreputable old heathen like me" - you have a kindred soul in Tennessee, John.

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  8. Another of your informative posts, John. The stained glass window details are lovely. And, I am more of a highly reputable old heathen, which proves that you CAN fool most of the people most of the time.

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  9. I'm glad you did too. What a magical place - and love the photos. That window is stunning.

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  10. The church is stunning and I especially loved the stained glass window. Thank you for sharing this with us John. A very interesting post all round.

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  11. The church may be hidden from most but fortunately not forgotten by the village in which it stands. It's lovely inside and does indeed evoke a sense of peace.

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  12. One of the treats of visiting England is seeing some of its hidden churches. We ran across one, some where in Herefordshire that had a collection box for the ransom of King Richard and another one that had a dunking stool.

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  13. The details of the window are so interesting. How wonderful that it is intact and cared for. Such a peaceful place to pause on a bike ride.

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  14. I love the stained glass Mary with her luxuriant hair! My own disreputable old heathen tries to get in two similar bike rides a week around the byways and bridle paths of Yorkshire. Good for mind and body.

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  15. The old lampposts are too gorgeous, wonder if they can be found in antique shops over there, I can just see one in my garden :) the stained glass windows are really special, in fact it's all special.. So many pathways to wonderful discoveries in England John.

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  16. I'm a not-so-old heathen but I like churches just for the history, architecture etc. This ons is lovely, worth a peek inside :)

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  17. Another charming post John. Thank you for sharing this gem and the amazing workmanship.

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  18. Looks really lovely place and I love churches, too.

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  19. Of the 236 Hertfordshire churches I've visited (only 4 to go!) I rank St Mary the Virgin at no 5 in my top ten Herts churches.

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